Islands (Bush Theatre)

Olivier Award-nominated Caroline Horton’s new play about tax havens has opened at the west London venue

Islands at the Bush Theatre
Islands at the Bush Theatre
© Francis Loney

Within two years, says Oxfam, the richest 1% will own the same as the rest of us: that is, half the world’s wealth. That wealth should, we’re told, trickle down. The tide should rise and, as the rich get richer, so too should the poor. Sadly, that’s not how it works. As the rich get richer, the accountants get creative. Offshore accounts, doomed films and other tax avoidance schemes mean the poor get next to nothing.

We should be getting angry. Instead, we get Caroline Horton‘s Islands: a mealy-mouthed bouffon show so tedious and unintelligible that it slowly saps whatever indignation you had on arrival. It takes close to two hours to tell us that tax avoidance is rather repulsive. Islands means well, but it doesn’t mean much more than that.

Horton casts the super-rich as gods, holed up on their haven, at a safe distance from the rest of us in the so-called Shitworld. She plays Mary, a mangled, Caliban-esque deity, with saggy tits and disco ball testicles, who spent her teenage years locked in her bedroom, masturbating and making up her own rules. On an island, there really is no such thing as society – and if there is, it’s small enough to be bent to your advantage.

With her two androgynous assistants, Agent and Swill (John Biddle and Seriol Davies), Mary enlists two ordinary humans, Adam and Eve, to do her cherry-picking and stave off the shit. Now and then, the blind-eyed taxman, Paul, plays hardball on the phone, and the determined voices of Cameron, Osborne and Co. echo out of sewers and toilets, threatening crackdowns.

Nothing of note really happens: Eve defects, Adam demeans himself by dragging up as Austerity Measures and those threatened crackdowns never come. Instead, there’s a piecemeal, patchwork quality, like sketches strung together, almost entirely without humour or dramatic tension. Almost everything onstage – Horton’s florid language, Oliver Townsend‘s attractive, cacophonous design, Biddle and Davies’ twee, twinkling songs and the soup of literary allusions – seems determined to obfuscate. Islands is basically one massive mixed metaphor.

What’s missing, above all else, is an argument – let alone, any critical thinking. Islands never charges us with complicity or selfishness on a smaller scale, nor does it leave room to consider the consequences of a clampdown on the corporations keeping society afloat. There’s no recognition, either, that Britain is seen as a tax haven itself; a new Switzerland, a safety deposit box nation. In fact, Islands is less a play, than a placard. Best avoided.

Islands runs at the Bush Theatre until 21st February. Click here for more information and to book tickets.